In Wired868’s final chat with Secondary Schools Football League (SSFL) coaches before the 2018 season gets underway, the attention shifts to the East Zone and the lone Tobago representative. And like their counterparts in the north, they hope to remove the southern schools’ firm grip on the Premier Division trophy.
San Juan North Secondary coach Jerry Moe, who has lost captain Kyle Thomas and stand-out Brandon Semper, declined the opportunity to speak on the upcoming season since he said he wants to “keep his cards close to his chest.”
However, Wired868 spoke to coaches from St Augustine Secondary, Trinity College East and the newly promoted Bishop’s High School (Tobago) and Valencia Secondary on what lies ahead:
Wired868: How has preseason gone so far and what is the mood in the camp like?
Richard Goddard (Bishop’s High School, Tobago): The boys and they are excited about the opportunity, as they have never had anything like it. For Bishop’s, this is brand new and we are potentially among the best football-playing secondary schools in the country. And this is one of the challenges we have been working towards over the past three years […] I think they are embracing it.
Since last year when we qualified, there was a sense of anticipation of what’s coming next. And I think we realised that what’s coming next is something new to the equation. If you go back 40 years, Bishop’s used to play against some of the schools from Trinidad but it hasn’t happened for quite some time and not in this format anyhow.
Adrian Romain (St Augustine Secondary): Pre-season has been a bit challenging. We have a new a set of players and it’s a younger group. We have a lot of guys who have been promoted from our Under-14 and Under-16 teams to the Premiership team, so it’s more down to working on our game plans and how they assert themselves. There was more coaching involved per say in terms of getting the youngsters to try and execute what you want in a match day.
Honesty, I think the mood in the camp is upbeat. We have a very young, talented squad. They will take time but we will like to be very competitive this season.
Michael Grayson (Trinity College East): Things have been shaping nicely so far. I have more team oriented players this year, so that’s a difference. Last year, we had some individuals who we depended on too much and it really didn’t work out at all, so we have more of a team oriented structure this year.
Roland Clarke (Valencia Secondary): We participated in a tournament in Sangre Grande called Sweet 16 to try and help us prepare for the intensity of the SSFL because there is a large difference between the Championship and Premiership in terms of the physical type of play.
Presently, we’re in the process of registering our transfers with certain players to add some depth to the team. The guys are very much confident because we are pleased with the quality coming into the team. The players are excited and they are looking forward to a very competitive season.
Wired868: Who are the persons making up your technical staff this season?
Goddard: My assistant coach is Bernard Allum and I will double as goalkeeping coach since I have a strong background in that area.
Romain: I have Shem Alexander who will be my assistant coach along with Sean Bateau. I also have Cleon John who will be my goalkeeper coach. I also brought in Stephon Ealie who played for us last year; he’s also with my Under-14 team. Eric Moe is the equipment manager and Michael Taylor returns as the physio/medic.
Grayson: Trevor Nottingham has come over from St Anthony’s College and he will serve as my assistant and also my goalkeeping coach.
Clarke: My technical staff is basically made up of teachers in the school.
Wired868: Are there any new players in your team? And have there been any key departures?
Goddard: The players in the squad have been in the program for the better part of four to five years […] At this point in time there’s only one new player, who’s a goalkeeper that we saw earlier this year. He has been training with us and he himself has been looking forward to the opportunity of playing against the best players in Secondary Schools football. He comes from the Harmon SDA School.
Romain: Stephon Ealie has he has moved on. He’s heading to College in January and we have also lost our skipper Anthony Samuel who has gotten a scholarship. Kendell Hitlal, Zion Holder and Darian Parks have also left.
Grayson: Nickel Orr and Kishon Hackshaw have both left, along with our captain Romario Williams. Hackshaw was in Lower 6 and didn’t take up the option to go in Upper 6. I think he has signed up with [San Juan] Jabloteh. And well Orr didn’t seek to repeat in school and he’s going to try his luck in the Pro League; he’s also with Jabloteh […] Coming in, we have got Tyrike Sutherland who’s a forward. We have really got some good finishers this year.
Clarke: We have lost three players, including our skipper Daniel La Croix, who is currently playing with North East Stars. We also lost our goalkeeper Hezron D’Abreau, […] they have their passes and everything but we didn’t have an Upper 6 to register them in. We have Zidane Liverpool who’s coming in from Holy Cross […] In terms of the players coming in and the ones we already have, I think we have assembled a formidable strike force.
Wired868: Who are your marquee players or players to look out for?
Goddard: Our captain led us in goals last year and he’s a central defender; Dominique Lyons. We are going to look to him for leadership throughout the entire season and […] we have a couple National Youth players in Adriel George, who was on last year’s National Under-15 team, and Kassidy Davidson who was on the TTFA’s Under-14 team that took part in the CFU tournament in August. […] I’ve highlighted those players as marquee, but as we know, no one player could win a season for his team by himself.
Romain: I think marquee our players will be Ethan Bonaparte, Rivaldo Coryot and a youngster by the name of Derrel Springer—I actually call him [N’golo] Kanté. And we will also welcome Kesean St Rose from Trinity College Moka. I think we have a good core and I expect them to do well and I know that they will click on the day.
Grayson: Based on how we started last season, I really want to avoid that. We are really not looking for the superstars and it’s more of a team oriented thing. We are looking for good performances from everybody rather than from a few people.
Clarke: One player to look out for is Keegan Faria. He is a very talented young player and I think he will show that talent to Trinidad and Tobago very, very soon. Valencia is very rich in talent. It’s just that for last few years they have not been able to reach to the level they’re capable of reaching. But not only Faria, we have a 16 year-old by the name of Elcock. He’s one of the calmest players you’ll see and he keeps it very simple; he has an excellent touch.
Wired868: What would be a realistic goal for your team to achieve this season?
Goddard: I think as a brand new team coming up against more seasoned institutions, we have to look at it positively […] anything can happen. But for our sake, realistically, we have to look at survival; and it’s essentially what every team will want although you will have the more fancied teams.
Romain: We would like to compete for a top five League finish. I must say the guys are really adapting to the coaching and they are learning quickly; but we are taking it one game at a time.
Grayson: As usual, we are aiming for the first place.
Clarke: We intend to compete and we have no intention to go back in the Championship. I have confidence in the team because of the players we have and I think we will be very competitive. I think we have what it takes to finish in the first five.
Wired868: Who do you expect to be your toughest challengers for this season?
Goddard: I think the toughest challenges will come from Naparima, Presentation (San Fernando), Carapichaima East and QRC. It’s going to be a challenge. Every school is going to come in there with the idea that they are going to get something from everyone. But as I said, the game is not played on paper.
Romain: I think our first game away to St Anthony’s will be very tough. Naparima College also seems to have a very competitive team and then you have Presentation College… It will all come down to who plays the best football on the day.
Grayson: The south teams have always been really strong; both Naparima and Presentation. Of course, you can’t discount St Anthony’s and then you have St Mary’s who are always just around there. And then we have San Juan in the east to contend with still.
Clarke: Naparima will be a tough opposition. St Mary’s College have also retained most of their players from last year and from the looks of things, they have a lot of depth and will be very competitive. Also, QRC, they have the ex-Trinidad and Tobago captain Kenwyne Jones joining their staff, so I think he will bring a lot of motivation to the players and they will also be competitive.
Wired868: Tell us a bit about your coaching philosophy and the improvements you would like to see from your team for the upcoming season…
Goddard: The players in Bishop’s High School know how to play, Signal Hill and Scarborough Secondary have both been recipients of some of Bishop’s High School students over the years. And those teams have won National Championships. But what we really and truly try to do is instil a little more self belief in the players who are here.
Romain: My philosophy this season will be for us to be patient when we possess the ball. Once the opposition has the ball, it’s imperative that we get it back as quickly as possible. The focus is also to play football to entertain and develop the kids as much as possible. […] I’d like us to be much more proactive instead of being reactive.
Grayson: Hard work; it’s about working hard right through. As I said, we analysed where we went wrong last year and so on and we know that’s something we could change and improve on. It’s hard work right around for everybody in every position [and] we will definitely have a fitter team this year. After we analysed the season from last year, we realised that we were not as fit as we should have been.
Clarke: I’m one of the top coaches in the country. I have been coaching around the Pro League level for just over 10 years. Trinidad and Tobago got a taste of my philosophy and style of football and they were very impressed and that’s what I intend to come to the SSFL with. It will be of a high intensity, fast transition and a lot of attacking football because I believe in attacking football […] We just need to raise the level of intensity and transition faster. They’re fine touch players and that meshes well with my philosophy.
Wired868: In order to lift the overall standard of football in the SSFL, what improvements would you like to see on and off the field?
Goddard: Over time watching the SSFL, you have realized that there has been a little bit of a dip from the days of the Dwight Yorkes and the Arnold Dwarikas… I think every secondary school should really and truly try to implement an off-season developmental program for their players. It doesn’t come easy but in order to get in that direction you have to actually make a push to get the players to understand that the environment needs to change a little bit. It just can’t be come play and then go home…
Romain: Honestly, I think that schools need to make a stance in ensuring that these kids are students first and then athletes… What normally happens is that these kids just play football from September to December and then in January you don’t see them in school. So I think that the League really needs to put some type of rule in place that will see to it that these kids can only play football for their schools if they have sufficient class time.
On the field, we need to see our kids express themselves a little more. At times, I think they’re too limited when it comes to showing their natural talent.
Grayson: I think the level of the League is very good you know. You have teams taking players from all over the place and whatever but the level of the League is very good… All you have to do is look at the support the SSFL gets; and this is not from fellow students alone.
Clarke: The problem in Trinidad and Tobago is that there are a lot of coaches who are not really verified for coaching [and] lack certain components… So many of the players are not being coached properly. For example, when you look at an individual’s—particularly a defender’s—situation awareness and all these things, you see that players are lacking. That area needs to improve and the coaching education needs to improve as well.
Wired868: For a second straight season, the League was hampered by off-the-field player eligibility issues. What can the League do to ensure that these scenarios do not occur again in the future?
Goddard: Exactly what has been done so far. The recognition that it’s a problem and dealing with it as quickly as possible in the most efficient way possible […] I’m definitely happy with the direction the SSFL is going in and I feel that if it keeps on going this way then we will definitely have a football league to be very, very proud of.
Romain: The SSFL is trying its best to put things in place when it comes to registration for it to be spot on. In reality, it has to come from the coaches as well. For example, I am a coach and my student athletes must attend school in order to play for my team. That’s the reality. And they have to get a certain percentage [in the classroom] because when they go into the American system and they get a College scholarship, their GPA has to be spot on. [That’s why some players] are not adapting to [the American system] and they come back home to do nothing.
Grayson: They’re working on it. The fact that the League has pushed back to the second week of school, gives the credentials committee more time to work on it. And I’ll tell you what, schools will be looking closely at each other because players know players and they will know when something’s not right.
Clarke: Because of what was happened with Fyzabad and so on, and the kind of documents that the League is restricting, I think everyone will play fair.